A task force including members of city council, administration and the aboriginal community has been charged with finding a site for the Red Deer Native Friendship Society’s affordable housing and cultural centre project.
The group will meet weekly to discuss options and to move the project along as soon as possible.
Friendship Society executive director Tanya Schur said the project cannot move along quickly enough.
The Friendship Society received about $2.6 million from the province for the housing component which is held in abeyance until March 31, 2013.
“That doesn’t necessarily mean we have to be finished the project but we would definitely need a concrete plan,” said Schur.
“I would love to see shovels in the dirt by spring of 2013.”
At its Oct. 15 meeting, city council ruled against making changes to the land use bylaw that would have allowed the project to be built on a site in Clearview North.
The decision followed one of the largest public hearings in recent memory where the majority of the speakers were opposed to the project. Many residents said they were left in the dark about the project when they purchased their homes.
Schur said the task force will ensure everyone is on the same page.
“The goal is to make sure every piece of city planning is included so nothing falls off the table or gets caught in public consultation again,” she said. “That’s a wise decision … I think it will create a much more inclusive process that will not leave people feeling they weren’t consulted.”
Members of the task force include Coun. Paul Harris, Coun. Tara Veer, city manager Craig Curtis, director of corporate transformation Lisa Perkins and Friendship Centre directors.
The group met last week but they are not at the stage to discuss potential locations.
Harris said he was surprised at the controversy and he felt the public did not have a clear understanding of the project. Harris said there are a variety of issues that need to be addressed this time around.
“Certainly some people felt they were left in the dark,” said Harris, noting the city must follow provincial and municipal legislation. “There’s two sides to every story when it comes to planning. We were following what we felt was the proper method to go. Probably going to first reading was in hindsight a decision we should have not done. We should have looked at it another way so it would not have called for a public hearing. Maybe address some things earlier in the process.”
Harris said the task force will be a fresh start for the community. Earlier this month, members of city council sat in a healing circle with the aboriginal community to begin repairing relationships following council’s decision.
Schur said the project which includes enough land to conduct cultural ceremonies and affordable housing (16 or 32 units) is non-negotiable. She said this may limit where the project could be situated but they have obligations to the aboriginal community.
“This project is an opportunity for Red Deer to celebrate the contribution of aboriginal culture and house some aboriginal and non-aboriginal people in the space that will have room to play, room to grow,” said Schur. “I think that’s a good thing for Red Deer.”